Sprint v. Cogent, some clarity & facts

Leo Bicknell bicknell at ufp.org
Mon Nov 3 15:19:05 UTC 2008

In a message written on Mon, Nov 03, 2008 at 01:26:14AM -0500, Patrick W. Gilmore wrote:
> Having skimmed the Sprint / Cogent threads, I saw multiple errors and  
> lots of really bad guesses.  Instead of replying individually, I  
> thought I would sum up a few facts so everyone was on the same page.   
> This way when we run off into another 100 post thread, we can at least  
> -start- from reality (although I would bet serious cash on long odds  
> we will diverge from it soon enough).

I notice a significant bit of information which has not been posted
in any of the posts I have read.

If I were to rank networks by the difficulty of getting settlement
free peering I believe Sprint would be at the top of the list.  The
traffic volume they demand is pretty much higher than anyone else,
the ratio they demand is tighter than anyone else, and they demand
you meet them at Sprint POP's.  Not friendly carrier neutral colos,
they are stuck in the Telco world of we run half the circuits to
you and run half the circuits to us.  Never mind that only a few
carriers are even in a Sprint POP to deliver a circuit.

I don't necessarily fault Sprint for setting their requirements as
such; if I were them I may well do the same.  Basically they have
decided they have enough peers and attempt to keep their requirements
high enough such that they need not ever add more.

However, looking at the issue from an external view, since I work for
neither Cogent nor Sprint, I do believe there are two fundamental
"fairness" questions:

1) Do all of Sprint's current peers meet Sprint's peering policy?

2) Due to the size and customer base of Sprint's network is it possible
   for anyone to meet their peering policy?

While these are rarely tested by anyone who could enforce them (save
the odd merger of mega players) they really are the interesting
questions.  Several of the "good old boys" in the settlement free
club have fallen from where they once were, yet they don't get
depeered.  If you have peers that no longer meet your current peering
policy and don't get depeered, how is that fair?  Of course, the
way the industry is structured those arrangements are completely
hidden, so we'll never know if everyone meets the criteria or no
one does.

The second is also very interesting.  Most networks came up with
their criteria (say, 2:1 ratio) 10, 15, or even 20 years ago.  The
network was a very different place at that time, when a T1 was a
large circuit and interconnects were DS-3's.  In particular, most
access was symmetrical; T1's, DS-3's, maybe ethernet (the 10M kind)
in a colo; and what's more, everyone was selling the same products.
There was no DSL, no cable modems, no EV-DO cards.

There have been two interesting developments in the industry since
that time, and the traditional criteria don't serve them well.
Asymmetrical access and specialization.  Take a pure end user play
network, like most of the cable modem networks, and peer them with
any content player and the ratio is never going to be 1.5:1 or 2:1,
but they both get benefit from the arrangement.  Many of the new
networks have realized this and adjusted their criteria, many of
the old players, like Sprint, may have morphed into one of these
new buckets, but not realized it yet.

This is an area where I believe our industry needs to grow up.  We
like to operate on the assumption that if we have to jump over a
particular bar to peer with someone that policy has been applied
fairly across all players and is reasonable.  However, there is no
way for anyone to verify that; short of the DoJ stepping in during
a merger.  I am fairly sure that the requirements are not enforced
evenly by some players (no comment on Sprint or Cogent in this
case); that they use the fact that actual traffic volumes and ratios
are hidden to play poker with other networks.

While I'm generally pro business and think this is a good thing; I
believe it has reached a point in our industry where it is damaging
the Internet.  The increase in peering spats to me is an indication
that the players are not looking out for stability, performance,
and insuring their customers are getting the access that they pay
for, but rather that they are interested in playing poker with each
other.  I don't even think it's about the money, but rather about
the power.

The interesting thing is that there is a disruptive force on the
horizon.  The IPv6 transition will change the peering landscape.
Traffic volumes and ratios will be moving to new providers as people
transition technologies.  This is going to lead to quite a shake
up on the peering front I'm afraid, and I fear the result is going
to be great instability.  The lack of transparency means that those
in power will try and bluff their way forward; the question is how
many people who have some visibility will call that bluff.

In all, this situation just reminds me of what I already knew.  When
there is a depeering both networks are at fault.  The fact that
these two players couldn't come to some commercially acceptable
terms to both of them speaks volumes about both.

       Leo Bicknell - bicknell at ufp.org - CCIE 3440
        PGP keys at http://www.ufp.org/~bicknell/
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